Christina’s volunteering in Latin America
“The culture of Latin America fascinated me from the very beginning. The locals in both Colombia and Costa Rica are incredibly nice and helpful. You get to talk to them super quickly and feel welcomed right away.”
Our participant Christina spent four months in Latin America with WanderWorld Travel, working in a children’s aid project in Colombia and a wildlife shelter in Costa Rica during her time there. In this report, she talks about her experiences and adventures and wants to help future travelers in their decision to spend time abroad in Latin America and give insider tips.
During my preparation time, I informed myself a lot about Colombia and Costa Rica, read a lot of travel reports or blogs and generally looked at some backpacker tips. Of course, I was also in contact with Lisa and Sophia the whole time, who gave me all the important info about vaccinations, insurance or other questions and always supported me during this time. I also started to learn Spanish again, watched series in Spanish and listened to songs from Latin America to prepare for my trip. Especially exciting were the weeks shortly before departure, when I received more and more information about my programs and my anticipation grew more and more.
MY FIRST DAYS
After my arrival in Cartagena, I quickly noticed that life here is really totally different from Germany. I had to get used to that a bit, but after a city tour with the contact person Jan, who gave me a lot of interesting information, I started my children’s aid project on the third day full of curiosity and anticipation.
Also in my second destination Costa Rica I got after my arrival in San José, together with another participant, a city tour from Lisa and in the evening we went out to eat together. I got along really well with the other volunteer right from the start, we went to a bar on the first evening and the next day we traveled together to Montezuma to start the wildlife project from there.
A NORMAL DAY IN THE PROJECT
In my Youth Development Project in Colombia, our day always began with a joint breakfast. After that, there was either a lesson in the morning from 9-11am or in the afternoon from 2pm-4pm. The rest of the day was mostly at our free disposal and often I did something with the other volunteers or we spent time with the children on the project site.
In the Wildlife Project in Costa Rica we had two shifts, an early shift from 6am-1:30pm and a late shift from 3pm-2pm. In between, however, you have several breaks. Those who worked in the morning then usually did something together in the afternoon. If you are on the late shift, most of you use the morning to sleep in or chill by the pool.
In the beginning, my tasks in the wildlife project included cutting vegetables, preparing food, feeding monkeys, cleaning enclosures, doing laundry and fetching leaves. After a short time, however, you can be “leveled up” so to speak and then get more responsible tasks. You are then allowed to get closer to the animals and at the end of my time in the program I was allowed to lift the oppossums out of their cages, weigh them and feed them. If you stay longer, you are even allowed to bottle feed the baby monkeys. Thus, the work is not boring, because you always learn new activities. In general, the tasks were always well distributed among the volunteers anyway. They made sure that everyone took over the less popular tasks and not always the same ones were allowed to do the nice tasks.
MY FREE TIME
In my free time in Colombia, I often played soccer with the children, baked cookies with them or helped with homework. But with the other volunteers we also often went to Cartagena to the city, went to the beach, explored the island and in the evening played cards or made movie nights.
One particularly nice excursion I took in my free time was a boat trip to a group of islands near Cartagena in Colombia. I was there together with the other volunteers from my project and our boss, who had organized the trip for us. We went snorkeling in beautiful turquoise blue sea, ate fresh fish and just relaxed. I also went on a several day trip together with a friend from the project to Medellin, San Gil and Barichara. There we dared to bungee jump from a height of 140 meters. That was really a special experience. I found it very interesting to travel to these places, because the interior of Colombia is quite different from the Caribbean coast.
In Costa Rica we had more working hours and therefore less free time, but we always made good use of it. Because there were more than 20 volunteers in the project, we always got together in large groups and went to bars, went out to eat, played beer pong at the pool or had beach parties with campfires. On the day off we could also plan excursions a little further away
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE CULTURE
The culture of Latin America fascinated me from the very beginning. The locals in both Colombia and Costa Rica are incredibly nice and helpful. You get into conversation with them super fast and feel directly accepted. Especially when you speak Spanish with them, or at least try to, you immediately notice how happy they are that you show interest in their culture.
THAT’S WHY I LOVE LATIN AMERICA
I wanted to travel to Latin America for a long time and I am so happy that I could fulfill this dream now. What I love about Latin America is the open-minded nature and warmth of the people, the music, the good food and also the Spanish language. There is so much to discover in the different countries and I will definitely come back again.
MY MOST BEAUTIFUL MOMENT
One moment that has remained especially in my memory was my farewell on Tierra Bomba. It was at the same time one of the most beautiful but also saddest days. I left the island on a Friday, which means we still had a surf class with the kids in the morning. Two other volunteers were also leaving that day, so we invited some of the kids to join us on the beach after class and a woman from the village cooked lunch for all of us. “Arroz con Pollo” the favorite meal of the children. It was really nice to sit together again at the table, eat and laugh a lot. It was at this moment that I really realized how much I had grown to love the children. But saying goodbye to the other volunteers was not easy either. The nice thing about this day was that I realized that I had found a home in this place for 2 months and I hope I can come back again and see how the children have developed.
MY FAVORITE PLACE
On my trip I was in many very nice places, but I especially liked Montezuma in Costa Rica. It is not far from the project where I worked, so I often spent the evenings there together with the other volunteers. There was always something going on. We even had a regular restaurant there, which had super delicious and especially fancy food. Even the waiters knew us there. Montezuma also has a beautiful beach and a waterfall. It’s not a very big place, but that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just not that touristy crowded. You always meet the same familiar people there and so you feel right at home. It is an indescribable feeling in such a foreign country to be recognized on the street and greeted from afar.
MY TIP FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS
I can really only recommend a stay abroad in Latin America, simply because you get to know so many new things. Life there is not comparable to that in Germany. It is incredibly exciting how many interesting people you meet on such a trip. Especially when you live together for a longer time, you build up a completely different connection and special friendships with the people there. It’s such a great feeling to have friends from all over the world. Also, in Latin America, it seemed to me that life there was just a little bit easier. Somehow there is always a solution for every problem and it is not an issue to ask for advice, because you will hardly meet someone who does not try to help you.
THIS IS HOW THE JOURNEY HAS CHANGED ME
I learned a lot on my trip. Because it was my first trip all by myself, I became more independent and had to decide many things on my own. I also learned not to take our prosperity here in Germany for granted now. Nevertheless, it has awakened my curiosity and wanderlust all the more and I would love to go straight back and travel to new countries.